Being a part of the snow plow industry is a wild ride; it can be fun, stressful, exciting and dangerous all at once. Our most recent storm, Stella, came in with plenty of notice. The week prior, we had a forecast of 5-8 inches. Once we see a forecast of 2 or more inches, we begin to plan for the storm. Then we can fit the particulars (such as time, length of the storm, density of the snow) into our preseason prep work. Turned out for this storm, the people who expected to be able to handle the winter themselves, ended up needing help. In this post, I hope to detail why we do contracts and preseason work and how it affects our ability to fight the storm.
To start I should detail what we do for preseason. Most of our contracts go out in September. We are able to stake out our properties so we know where asphalt meets lawn and areas to avoid. We then input the accounts into our software system and print out laminated route sheets for each truck. All of our accounts are put into routes and we assign a foreman/crew leader to manage the route. So before our shovels and plows hit a driveway, we have invested hours into the account. We also maintain and check our trucks regularly throughout the season, whether or not we see snow in the immediate forecast. Broken plow lights, broken shear pins and broken truck mirrors were some of the casualties of Stella.
Stella was a storm that started during the day, roughly 6-8AM Tuesday morning. A lot of our contracts have AM triggers (meaning we clear at a certain time in the morning if a certain amount of snow has fallen). We have others that have triggers throughout the day. This contract language is meant to reduce phone calls and miscommunication during a storm. For context, we have over a hundred plow accounts. Some are residential and some commercial. So knowing that Stella was upgraded to a 18-24 inch storm, we had a couple trucks out plowing our seasonal customers from 8AM Tuesday on. Stella finished dumping on us at around 9-10PM on Tuesday. Normally this is a great time for a storm to finish – we are able to clear snow through the night and only have a few clients left to serve. However, since we got nearly two feet of snow, every account took 2-3x the amount of time. Our AM Tuesday guys were still out plowing and all of our trucks were out and plowing by 1AM Wednesday. We had most of our clients cleared by 8AM Wednesday when the largest influx of phone calls for new clients came.
We had done really well at clearing our contracted customers driveways and parking lots, when we got slammed with phone calls. With a couple guys already passed 24 hours straight of plowing, there were plenty of people calling in for their driveway to be cleared. Most of the time this is welcome, but this storm was difficult to manage, not to mention the extra accounts. We ended up taking on another dozen or so clients. By the time it ended we had one person out for 34 hours straight, another at 27 and a couple more at 20+ hours, not to mention the handful of guys who did anywhere from 4-17 hours. Altogether, we may have put in 140 man-hours of clearing snow, just Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday added another 40 on top of that. It’s always a tough stretch, but worth it.
In the end, we were happy with our work on Stella. By Friday, we didn’t have any clients with any concerns. Some of our employees were happy with their overtime, others who couldn’t wait to get home and finally get to bed. All in all, we are just happy to get our clients back to their everyday work and keeping them safe.
A few tips for someone looking for a plow driver either right before, or during, a storm:
Prepping at our shop before the big storm.
Checking out a driveway for a new client, as you can tell sometimes it can be difficult to see the exact location and shape of the driveway, and if there’s anything under the snow we might hit.